Tour de Ladakh [Day 4-Part 1] : The Ghost of Gata Loops

Crossing one of the most dangerous high mountain passes in the world, rescuing a stranded biker, crossing a freezing river on bikes in pitch black darkness, spending the night in a tent at -16 degree Celsius; Yesterday had been as eventful as it gets. Now we were pretty much sure that we had experienced so much within the first 3 days of the 15 days trip that there is nothing more to experience now. We dreaded the sentiment that the next 12 days are going to be an unexciting drag. But yet again, Ladakh had plans for us in Day 4 that would kick the living daylights out of our Day 3 adventures. Like Day 3, even Day 4 deserves to be split into a two part post.

Our Stallions basking in the sunlight after the rigorous ride of yesterday. Little did they know that what’s coming up will be even tougher! Shot taken from inside our cramped up tent.

A MORNING AT SARCHU

Sarchu at over 14,000 ft. above sea level is a small camping spot on the Himanchal Pradesh-Kashmir border. No one is quite sure where whether it comes under HP  or the J&K governments’ jurisdiction, but again due to it’s zero population, extreme climate and being unreachable for 8 months a year, no one seems to care. This untouched beauty of a place serves as a base camp for those attempting the tough Zanskar valley trek. Surprisingly we slept though the horribly cold night without breaking a wink in that shitty excuse of a tent. After the tough rigors of the ragged Baralacha la descent, Sarchu provides a calm landscape of open fields  with snowy peaks in the backdrop. While Sukesh and Me were sleeping, Rahul had set out for his own adventures in the dawn. The poor guy had to attend an urgent nature’s call is sub-zero temperatures! He ventured out of the tent, woke up the camp’s caretaker, asked him, “Bhai, washroom kidhar hai?”, only to be pointed to the vast open fields with a, “Paani koney mein rakha hai.” pointer! Poor guy later told us how horrible of an experience it was to expose the butt to the God-Awful chilly wind blast at 5 am in the morning in the open fields behind the tent!

Rahul Pant (taking up 75% of the tent’s real estate due to his size) in his dreams after his solo ‘Adventure’ in the dawn.

Anyway all of us woke up at 10 in the morning, had a leisurely breakfast of bread omelette and repacked out stuff. Thankfully, our shoes and jeans were tried up by the time we set out to leave. We loaded our saddlebags on our bikes and started off. After three days of running behind time, today we were finally on schedule. We should be reaching Leh by the evening. Today is the day we are getting Leh’D!

That’s right outside our camp. The End of HP. And The Beginning of Kashmir. Probably.

Rahul and Sukesh gearing up for the tough ride ahead. Yes, that’s the tent we stayed at. And we were the only ones in the campsite apart from the caretaker.

MORE BROKEN BRIDGES

There were no signs of Raghav and his group anywhere on the road. We hoped that they had met and proceeded ahead. Just a couple of Kilometers down the line we encountered another bridge which was being repaired by truckers. This was becoming a trend of every single Day. Wake Up; Ride for a couple of Kilometres; Encounter a broken bridge. Anyway, this one didn’t pose much of a problem as the  bikes were allowed to pass through. The landscape we encountered now were in stark contrast to what we had come across till now. The green and white mountains were now replaced by rocky brown and red peaks. And interestingly, due to the constant windblast all the mountains had been carved into interesting designs naturally. Some looked like temples, some like dragon teeth and some like ancient Lord of The Rings style castles!

A Broken bridge within 2-3 KMS of Sarchu. The planks are being adjusted by the Truckers for everyone to pass through.

Yeah! Confirmation that we have entered Kashmir!

A stark contrast to the kind of terrain we had seen till now

Empty Roads, with just this crackling river to give us company.

Reasonably good roads. But speeding was dangerous due to the amount of loose gravel on the road.

Interesting rock formations on the mountains due to the high velocity winds.

WHISKEY BRIDGE

The roads were reasonably good. One of the famous features of the Kashmiri roads are that, they have pretty interesting signposts throughout the journey. We would come across a lot of them later. Even the small bridges were given interesting names like ‘Whiskey Bridge’ and ‘Brandy Bridge’ by the BRO (Border Roads Organization). After an hour of riding we crossed Brandy Bridge and came to Whiskey Bridge. The bridge had completely collapsed. This meant dead end for most all the four wheelers who were travelling that route. Later when we arrive in Leh, we would come to know that almost no four wheeler tourist vehicles are doing that route due to the broken bridge and people are preferring the Srinagar-Leh route instead. But, the regular Truckers being the badasses they are made a makeshift arrangement using steel beams to cross the crevasse anyway. These truckers travel this dangerous twice a month to provide oil and fuel to Leh from Haryana. We crossed those iron beams in a few nervy seconds and proceeded on our way to the next landmark; The Gata Loops!

And from now on we will be encountering all sort of funny names for Bridges!

The Twing Twing Bridge passes over this charming river.

A panoramic view of the rock formations.

Brandy Bridge! Funny because of the name. Not funny because of the juvenile vandalism.

That the road to the ‘Whiskey Bridge’

Whiskey Bridge. Duh!

That’s what remains of the collapsed Whiskey Bridge. Notice that to the right side of the photograph, where a couple of iron beams have been placed by Truckers for vehicles to pass through. Nerve Whacking moments while crossing that.

THE GHOST OF GATA LOOPS

Gata Loops, 24 kms from Sarchu is a series of 21 hairpin bends which leads you to Naki-La. The lower end of Gata Loops is 1750 ft. and the upper end is at 15300 ft. The steep and difficult ascent with the bone-shaking but stunningly beautiful surroundings proves to be an off-roader’s paradise. There are a number of shortcuts one can take. Some very simple to some proving to be the benchmark to test the motorcycle’s power. Anyway, there is a local legend of the ‘Ghost of Gata Loops’. The story goes like this that many years ago, a truck passing though Gata Loops broke down in one of the loops and the driver walked his way back to a nearby village to get help leaving the helper in the truck to guard the cargo. As luck (or bad luck) has it, it started snowing and he couldn’t return to the truck with help. After a few days when finally the driver finally arrived with the rescue party, they found the truck’s helper had froze to death. Turns out that they were the last truckers on that route and the poor guy couldn’t escape when it started snowing. They buried the dead body of the helper nearby. Soon after, many travellers and truckers on the route reported a beggar begging for food and water on Gata Loops and when they offered him water, they found the bottles slipping, going right through the hands of the ‘beggar’. And thus the legend of the Ghost of Gata Loops was born. A small temple was constructed on the grave of the Helper and till today anybody who travels through Gata Loops make a offering of a Water Bottle on this roadside grave. As goes the unsaid rule ,”No one stops unnecessarily at Gata Loops”.

The Start of Gata Loops.

Some of the 21 hairpin bends of Gata Loops.

Whatever remains of that fateful Truck which gave rise to the legend of “The Ghost of Gata Loops”

The Shrine of The Ghost of Gata Loops where travelers make their offerings of Water Bottles. (Photo  Courtesy: allaboutcycling.blogspot.in )

A Closer look at the memorial. Creepy.

Unluckily (Or Luckily) we didn’t see any ghosts at Gata Loops. We sure did come across the Temple and the abandoned truck where the poor Helper met his lonely and painful death. Apart from Ghost and Urban Legends we had a pretty fun time at Gata Loops. I took a lot of tough shortcuts with Sukesh in the pillion. Rahul had to ride all the way alone as his 150 was having a hard time to garner enough power to cover the steep shortcuts. Finally we were at the top of Gata Loops and on our way to the High Mountain Pass, Naki-La. Due to all those fun time we had on the bike, we rarely stopped for photographs to document the awesomeness of the surroundings. A thing which I’m regretting now. We did meet a brother-sister duo on an Enfield (Whom we saw on Day 2 at Kullu). They too were aiming to reach Leh by evening.

Somewhere near the top of Gata Loops Upper End.

On the way to Naki-La

NAKI LA

Naki- La was pretty easy to ascend even though it was at an altitude of 15,552 ft. asl. By now we had become a little bored with the difficult passes. This came as a welcome change. Though the amount of show here was pretty less as compared to that in Baralacha La, it’s beauty was still mesmerising.

Sukesh and Rahul during the Ascent to Naki-La.

Naki La Zero Point.

The descent from Naki La.

LACHULUNG LA

The descent from Naki-La was as easy as the ascent. We still had tow more high mountain passes to cover before evening. The next mountain pass Lachulung La was at 16618 ft. Above sea level. At 10 kms away from Naki-La, the climate at Lachulung La was much colder and harsher. During the relatively tough ascent, Rahul was hit by AMS(Acute Mountain Sickness), a form of altitude sickness. We had to stop at the summit and Rahul administered himself with doses of Oxygen Bursts from our oxygen cans. There was much more ice here tan Naki La and even though it was right in the afternoon, it was pretty dark due to the shadows cast by the gigantic mountains.

One of the countless ‘Roads’ damaged by melting ice streams.

A makeshift snack stall for truckers.

Me. Riding Solo on descents and with Sukesh on ascents.

On the way to Lachulung La Top

🙂

Lachulung la posed some challenges after Naki-La disappointed us.

AMS was starting to creep in by now.

No as grand as Baralacha La. But still beautiful.

Lachulung La Zero Point.

All the AMS, ALl the Altitude Sickness, All the desperate runs for some oxygen bursts was all worth this drive!

Sukesh before attempting a water crossing.

Panoramic view of the descent from Lachulung la. Super bad roads from now on.

OBLIVIOUS OF WHAT’S COMING NEXT

During the descent from Lachulung La, the terrain changed dramatically. The mountains were all sandy and rocky. The roads were in pathetic conditions. Well, there weren’t any roads at certain places and we had to make our own. Thank God, it was right in the day time we covered it which made it much easier. It we had attempted it in darkness, I’m pretty sure a sequel to the Legend of Gata Loops would have been made here, “The Ghosts of Lachulung La”. Anyway, our fights with the roads were nothing as compared to what we would have to go through later in the day at ‘Morey Plains’. Today is the day, that would change my outlook towards adventure, reinforce my faith in the ‘biker’s brotherhood’ and give us three the toughest day in our trip. coming soon, The second part of this post. ‘Juley!’ for now.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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8 thoughts on “Tour de Ladakh [Day 4-Part 1] : The Ghost of Gata Loops

  1. Pingback: Tour de Ladakh [Day 5:Part 2]: Getting Leh’D ! | Tour de Ladakh

  2. Pingback: Tour de Ladakh [Day 6]: A Lazy Day at Leh | Tour de Ladakh

  3. Pingback: Tour de Ladakh [Day 7]: The Mighty Chang La | Tour de Ladakh

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